Bonnie Urciuoli in ‘Exposing Prejudice’, defines ‘community’ as a group united by common concerns and marked by specific traits, neighbors, social classes, and society.
However, traditionally Nias society defines community as a moral obligation between individuals, families, groups, and to the society in general. The strength of a community lies in its ability to communicate and reach a consensus on issues relating to the society. For example, in a public meeting, every person is given the opportunity to voice his opinion. As a rule, he who wishes to speak chooses one person who is to respond or react to his ideas. After he has voiced his views any other person wishing to speak or refute the idea can do so. This process continues till the public as a whole agrees or disagrees on the issue. This majority consensus is another aspect of the traditional concept of democracy.
The scenario in Nias is not the same today. People are more concerned about their rights, properties, and belongings. Concern for neighbors and traditional solidarity have ceased to exist. One of the reasons for this is the economic crisis that has forced people to become self-centered and concentrate more on their family rather than think about the community and society. Secondly, the Indonesian government is not in a position to solve the national economic crisis and this has leaded the public to loose faith in the government. The implications include demanding more freedom that has in turn culminated in every island demanding to be a separate entity, cut off from the central government of Indonesia.
As Michael Moffatt points out in his ‘Ethnographic Writing About American Culture’, foreign immigration and internal migration was what made America a collection of identities. This projects the country as a democratic unit where identity is about the individual’s choice. In other words people identify themselves in varieties of social construction.
In Nias, identity revolves around artifacts worn or owned by people. Every object is associated with a particular clan, social status or gender. One’s identity is thus handed down from previous generations. This identity, based on artifacts, tends to have a very high social value.
People without an identity have the choice to earn their identity - the artifact worn by people of the lowest class. This makes the artifact a symbol of democracy, as is traditionally understood by the people of Nias, since people are given the choice of whether or not to have an identity.
Today, most of these ornaments are gone. Economic crises have forced people to sell these ornaments for a small amount. The modern concepts of democracy have overshadowed traditional ideas. Today, Indonesians believe democracy is about free choice and free speech, not about whether or not to have an identity. This change again is a result of the Indonesian government’s inability to tackle the economic crises. For example: tsunami disaster has swept away thousands of people along with their belongings which Indonesian government requires serious attention to assist such victims. In fact, the government has faced tremendous difficulties in a way of providing humanitarian assistance for Nias people in particular due to the lack of infrastructure, such as transportation, and communication.
In line with the ornaments’ issue, I remember the day my mother tried explaining the significance of each artifact. I was confused. From her part she was doing her duty of handing down a legacy - the importance of the ornaments. But that aspect of society is no longer an integral part of Indonesian culture and life, and that made it difficult for me to visualize and understand the significance of the artifacts. It was only when I decided to research on the subject did I come across pictures of the ornaments in “Nias Tribal Treasures: Cosmic Reflections in Stone, Wood, and Gold”. This, to my surprise, had not only the gold ornaments but also information and pictures of houses, village settings, meetings, and the people of Nias.
Outsiders’, people from surrounding islands, system of education - brought through the Catholic Church and imposed by the government of Indonesia - influenced tradition very strongly. Education changed the existing status within the social system. People became more broad-minded, aware of their rights and obligations, and perceived themselves as part of a universal community and not just as members of a particular clan within the Nias society. In addition, an educated person was no longer willing to marry someone his or her parents selected unless he or she was in love with the person.
Technological advancement has made it less possible to isolate one culture from another. Ten years ago, most areas of South Nias did not have electricity. Today, there are few areas without electricity. In nearly all villages, there is somewhere to go to watch television. And, though the Indonesian government currently controls transmission on the Indonesian television, events in the major cities of Indonesia and the rest of the world influence the ideas of the people of Nias. The popularity of satellite dishes and the Internet have enabled people from remote corners of Nias to interact with the entire world.
These technological advancements raise the question of the effect of information on people and democracy. Will people continue to abandon traditional beliefs for ‘modern’ ones? Is there any way to preserve tradition?
Much is already lost because Nias’ culture is an oral culture. Young people have not remained in Nias to hear stories from and of their elders and so have no tales to pass on to their children. Additionally, many from the present generation have married outside of their community. These people are presented with the task of deciding what is valuable enough to be passed on and what not to pass on. As a result, certain traditional concepts of certain cultures survive while others are lost forever.
There is a saying in South Nias society, “tanömönia ba buania”. This saying can be translated to mean that if the people of Nias don’t work hard to preserve their culture, the tradition of South Nias will loose the battle against democracy.
• Name: Makarius Buulolo
• Address: 900 East 7th. Street #307
Bloomington IN, 47405
• E-mail: email@example.com
I am currently working on my specialist in Information Science at Indiana University, Jan. 2004 - present
• (S-2) - MIS (Master of Information Science) Indiana University, Bloomington, December 2003
Concentration Area: Human-Computer Interaction and Communication
• (S-2) - M.A (Master of Arts) Indiana University, Bloomington, May 2001
Concentration Area: Anthropology
• (S-1) - Indiana University, Bloomington, May 1999
Major: Arts, Humanities, and Graphic Design
• SMA - Sibolga, Sumatera Utara, Indonesia
• SMP - Bintang Laut Teludalam, Nias
• SD - Hilinawalo Fau Telukdalam, Nias
• Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)